A Coaching Power Tool Created by Bridgette Raynolds-Perry
(Transitional Coach, UNITED STATES)
Empathy is an integral part of how we connect to people. It is also considered a strength in a Life Coach. What does it mean to use empathy in our personal lives and as coaches? It is a powerful tool when wielded in a healthy and constructive way but what can happen when empathy is wielded as empath-y? An empath is someone who is highly aware of the emotions of those around them, to the point of feeling those emotions themselves. What would happen to our personal and coaching relationships if by practising this empath-y we felt every emotion our friend or client shared?
Social Psychologist C. Daniel Batson claims that empathy can refer to eight concepts. Imagine a conversation between two people. Person A is telling Person B about a personal tragedy. Person B is using empathy in their conversation. Looking at the list below can you identify any of the concepts that may have a negative effect on the conversation or on either person?
- Knowing another’s thoughts and feelings
- Imagining another’s thoughts and feelings
- Adopting the posture of another
- Actually feeling as another does
- Imagining how one would feel or think in another’s place
- Feeling distress at another’s suffering
- Feeling for another’s suffering, sometimes called pity or compassion
- Projecting oneself into another’s situation
Four and six can be seen as examples of empath-y or emotional empathy. If we reflect on the conversation and imagine four and six in play Person B will be feeling and showing distress/anger/pain/sadness at Person A’s story. Person A may feel obliged to comfort Person B or feel bad for causing them pain. Person A may also feel as though the conversation is no longer about them and their feelings but rather about Person B’s feelings. In this case, emotional empathy is not serving either person.
Exercise for a Coach:
Look at the list again. Identify any concepts that should not be used in a coaching session. Identify any concepts that would aid a coach.
Once again, four and six should not be used in a coaching session. How would our client feel or react if we felt as our clients did and showed those emotions? Our clients may not share further because they are uncomfortable with the coach’s emotional reaction. It is can also be presumed to be unprofessional. How would we feel day after day always feeling our clients’ emotions? Perhaps exhausted and burned out. Eight and five are also areas of concern. We take care to never assume or imagine what a client may be feeling or meaning.
Seven and one seem the safest area for a coach to utilize empathy. We can feel compassion for a client or their situation without emotionally involving ourselves. Through shared human experiences we may know on a fundamental level what a client feels when they say they are happy or in pain because we have experienced those same feelings in our own lives; taking care though to explore what the client means.
It can, in rare instances, be beneficial for a client to hear that a coach has experienced a similar situation. It may help foster trust and intimacy. A coach should be careful to ask permission to share, mention it briefly and keep the focus on the client. Always remember to offer from a place of moving the client forward. A client may even choose to hire a coach based on a shared experience or has overcome a similar challenge or has a common background that is mentioned in a coach’s biography. We all seek to make a connection and a client may seek a coach that they feel has an immediate empathy to their situation.
The ability to use our emotional intelligence to utilize empathy correctly is invaluable!